Thursday, November 18, 2010

Trees VS Solar

I have an sustainable issue that maybe ya'll can help me with...
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I moved into the forest, and there is only scarce amounts of sunlight coming to the Luck Cabin. While I would love to get off the grid entirely, when it comes to doing anything solar related... well the trees are blocking out the light. It seems crazy to me to cut down trees to have solar energy, but which option really is the most environmentally sound? I mean, how much is destroyed when I use up all the electricity... more then 10-20 trees?
I have a small hot water heater, run by electricity - it's small enough to fit under the kitchen counter. But I long to have a solar tank, that uses the sun to heat up the water. I have a stove and fridge run by electricity too... but I use maybe 30-40$ a month total, so switching to solar should be somewhat easy.
That is, if i had sunlight (and $).

I would love to open a discussion here where people can share their ideas of better ways to live Off Grid without using electricity generated by the electric company. Do I even need solar panels (sunlight heat), or is there a truly efficient and realistic way to live with no electricity year round without solar energy?
My suggestion box is open!
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Here are steps I have already taken to be sustainable::::
  • Gravity fed spring water
  • Organic gardening (planting fruit trees, herbs, veggies etc to feed myself)
  • Using wood to warm the cabin (also can cook on the wood stove too)
  • Building my gray water system, instead of a septic tank
  • Composting toilet
  • My donkey! (using her poop as garden fertilizer and I plan to train her to take long rides, carry pack saddles, hike etc...)
  • Rarely drive a car (i have a bike too, but don't have the strength to ride it in my area)
  • Wear only organic, vintage, fair trade, used, thrifted clothing and shoes
Xoxoxox

18 comments:

Kittie Howard said...

Is it possible to dig down for thermal energy?? I have a Swedish friend whose father (in Sweden) did the work himself.

Otherwise, can the trees around you be pruned?

How old are they? If old, would they naturally fall anyway?

Cutting and re-planting elsewhere are options.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

From Facebook:::

M- How about hydro-electric? You have a lot of water on your property dont you? Im not sure how it works exactly but I recently read a story of an older couple who have been off-grid for most of their lives using water to power their home. They live in an old cabin in the woods somewhere around here and they made their own electric car that they charge with the hydro too! Pretty exciting stuff. There are so many possibilities :)

Z- Can You put the solar panels high up in a tree? Or somewhere they do get sun and charge a deep cycle lesuire battery which you wheel to the luck cabin and have a inverter for the little you use? You need 2 batteries, to change them, but its a budget way to do it! You already use so little power. This is how boat/ trailer dwellers do it. I know online info only for the UK, not much use to you I checked. Sorry can't comment on the blog, I can't see the verification!

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

I think these are some awesome ideas... maybe i will email this post to some experts, and see if they can tell us how this shit really works!

xoxo

Vicky said...

You have already taken so many steps. It is really inspiring. Are you asking about solar panels or the kind of water heater that runs the water through a black box on the roof? You could make a simple one of those by just getting a black hose and putting it in a sunny area for the water to run through. Of course, then you run into the tree problem again.

Is it possible to cook and heat water on your wood stove? What about using a cardboard box oven? We did this in Girl Scouts. You cover a box with aluminum foil and put it in the sun. Oh! and I was reading about a method that Native American tribes in the south used to bake. They had clay briquettes that they heated in the fire, and they would put these in their clay oven until it reached the right temperature.

You can't run a refrigerator without electricity of course, but since you have a spring, perhaps you could make a spring house for perishables. I remember reading on your blog about the cob project. Cob might be a good material for a spring house (or even a spring box. I don't know how much space you need.)

I hope we're generating some good ideas here. Our house was without power for 19 hours due to a windstorm, so it got me seriously thinking about off the grid alternatives. Good luck!

Jane said...

Thermal Energy still needs electric to work and is primary used to heat your home. So that is not an option for you. I agree you can heat your water and cook with wood. If you have any fast moving water on your property you can use hydro-electric generator to power your home. You can get a propane refrigerator if you can get propane trucked in, plus heat your water with that. You could dig a fruit cellar and not need a refrigerator at all. We are going off grid also, but you will find that most of the stuff we need power for is not really needed. We lived 1000's of years with no power and did just fine. They make small panels to charge your laptop that do not require an inverter. You need a true sine wave inverter to run a computer and on a battery backup system that can start at $1000. We have looked into all this extensively.

Lou Cheese said...

One of my best friends uses thermal energy to heat and cool his home. Basically there's a bunch of pipe and tubing which is buried under the freeze line (the "buried" part means digging up a lot of land, and it works best on flat terrain with no trees, neither one of which would sound suitable for your environment). Once all that is put in, an electric pump pushes the water through the system. Overall, it's more efficient than the average form of heating and cooling, but it is not a universal solution. The problem with having trees nearby is that the roots will compromise the pipes/tubing and you'll never know where the roots are that are blocking the flow.

Your best bets are probably the spring and oven. Those two items will most likely be running around the clock this winter, at least if the pipes don't freeze. The problem with solar power is that the sun's angle moves, according to both the time of day and the season.

Lou Cheese said...

By "oven" I mean wood stove. Damnit, I'm done. Going to bed now....

Isaac said...

In my mind, the more you can consolidate your energy use so that it can be supplied by one source, the better. For example, I don't know how much hot water you use, but since you don't have the sun, a wood stove with a hot water tank may do the trick. This would allow you to get rid of an electric stove and a furnace, and concentrate your cooking and hot water heating onto one device. I think I remember that you have a wood stove, but I am not positive. If you already do, then it would not be all that difficult to replace it, and it would be a ton cheaper than solar.

Then you can cut down those trees, burn them over a few winters, and then get your solar hot water and solar electric systems later on as you expand your little homestead!!

Cheers,
Isaac

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

I knew ya'll would have all kinds of ideas that would make more ideas!

I could heat water and cook on the wood stove during the winter, but I am looking for a year round solution. The wood stove during summer is not an option as it would melt me alive.
For cooking I do plan on making some outside stuff for the summer, like a cob oven and permenant campfire spot with hanging iron pot, etc... but because I have to cook all my meals from scratch everyday it def has to be something that doesn't make my life so difficult that I am not enjoying it (this is just cause i dont want to strain my health I have worked for years to regain). (PLUS, it has to be something someone really can handle doing on their own everyday in addition to the other chores and the rest of their life, with no outside help.)

I do want to dig out a spot to put in a cold underground cellar, as cool as it stays here throughout the year, i think I could put my food in there and have it stay very fresh.
The other (expensive choice) is to have the "sunfrost" fridge, which is made for solar power and hardly uses anything to run it. I dont want to put the fridge and stove on natural gas that I would have to have trucked in, because gas costs ALOT$$$ here, trucks will most likely complain about going up my road, gas is not very good for people with Chemical sensitivities,If i run out and am snowed in I wont be able to get more, and it is not long term sustianable because it has to be trucked in, paid for etc....
Although I know lots of off grid people love it and use it.
...Now if i had the stove on gas that could somehow be powered off my composting toilet and composting food, that would be super efficient..maybe gross... ha ha (anyone know about that kind of stuff>???)

------I do like the idea of cutting for firewood... and replanting in other places to replace what i cut. Not sure how much sun it will let in, but it will be more then now. I would love to know how much energy use destroys environmentally per kilowatt. Maybe cutting trees is less destructive>?

Jane said...

You can build a generator that is fueled on a biomass gasifier, but I am not sure you have enough materials to create the biomass. If you lived near a sawmill and could get sawdust, or a large farmer would deliver enough manure it could work. You and juju may not make enough. Also if you get the Sunfrost unit with a freezer it uses the same amount of electric as an energy star regular refrigerator. The info they use in their literature is only using stats from the refrigerator only model. Some solar stores have quit caring the units due to the flawed research

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Thanks Jane for the info on Sunfrost Fridges, I have always wanted one based on the info they give... i never read before about the freezer unit making the energy just as high! WHats the point, at that point??!! lame.

I just had a friend recently mention gasifiers to me, but i had not researched it yet. Me and JuJu really don't make alot of waste to be honest... so I am not sure how I would fuel it if it takes large amounts of waste.

Stephanie Rogers said...

Do you get any wind in your little corner of the woods? When we have our little cabin built we're thinking about doing a combo of solar and a small wind turbine - I've read that WNC gets pretty decent wind speeds, especially in the winter when there's not a lot of sun anyway.

kirk said...

i was at a gathering years ago and they had an old cast iron clawfoot tub next to a stream-underneath was a mud oven of sorts--i built a fire and added cool water from the stream when it got too hot-i got clean while looking at the stars. I picked up a 5 1/2 foot clawfoot tub without the feet at auction a few weeks back and since i live on a river i am going to use cob to ..

kirk said...

..to build an oven around the base and I will add a chimmney so I'm not sucking smoke. I have lots of firewood and a hot soak staring at the stars can't be beat. Could you do something similar so you can get a hot bath at least without using electric or gas to heat the water?? I helped a group build a cob oven 2 summers ago so this will be my second project with cob.

TebbeK said...

Trees are an issue with solar, but not the death sentence some may think. It is a matter of degrees. to be totally covered over is one thing but shade should be considered in any equation. Remember that solar thermal (hot water)and solar electric (PV)are separate systems. If you havea year round creek or stream on you land that had a good flow and drop that may be the best bang for the buck.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Hey Stephanie!
I don't know if I get enough wind. I get gusts here and there but since i am in a lil hollar, I am not sure I can harness the kind of power maybe someone up on a bald or ridge could? But I dn't know enough about it.
I can't wait till ya'll have your place going, the live roof will be what interests me most.

Kirk!
Oh , that sounds wild! How is it built, do you have pictures? Is the tub propped up high? How do you fit an oven under it?
Very interesting idea!

TebbeK -
Trees! I don't just have alittle shade, I live in the shade. It never seems to get warm here even in the heart of summer.
Hydro is a better possiblity, i think. I am not even sure if i cut down trees if i'll get enough sun to do solar.
If I had bunches of sun I would do a DIY solar hot water system, like the one at the Long Branch Environmental Center, using black tanks on a tilt with insulation, behind glass. :)))

kirk said...

like this---http://ilovecob.com/archive/cob-hot-tub ----only a bit more artsy-fartsy and with a chimmney to direct the smoke away. I think I will sculpt animals into the base as well as bits of broken found glass and pottery I have picked up on my wanderings. I'll get a camera and send a picture when I finish-next summer.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

WOw Kirk, that is a rad project!
Now I will have to find an unwanted clawfoot tub to have an outside bath! Very cool.
A chimney would have to be built otherwise you'd smoke yourself right out the tub. :)